The Other Mothers

Kelle Clarke

              The early morning train passes swiftly through the thick trees below, sending her coffee mug jittering across the counter. She wonders what time they’ll arrive. The noon train rattles her teeth. They are fastened tight to her jaw with industrial epoxy, though they are all her own. Sharp little fuckers, they used to be. Hers is a body held together with stucco, duct tape and super-glue. Knots in her hair. Her knuckles have thickened; her fingertips have all gone blue.

              After a late lunch of hard-boiled eggs, she feels their presence as a hollow ache in her elbow joints. Today is the day. Her body has decided for her. She sets her mug in the empty sink, pulls on her boots. There is a meadow to cross, a bridge to cross, a cross to carry, which she does, on her back, every day. She spies them down by the tracks, all the other mothers, the ones who once hosted playdates, bake-sale fundraised, chaperoned afterschool dances together, all while sipping Wild Turkey from shared monogrammed flasks. They pretend not to notice her. They avert their gazes while she stares, each of them taking their turn placing pennies on the tracks. Waiting for the trains.

              None of them asks what became of her daughter, why she is wearing off-white linen in brisk autumn and carrying on her back a heavy pair of driftwood walking sticks stolen from the tide and bound together with bungee cord her husband left behind in a mildewed cardboard box. Instead, they laugh in spite of themselves at how stupid-drunk they’ve all become, how grown their children, how long and gray their crazy, wild hair. We have turned the corner for good this time, the one mom says, the one who once invited her over for tea after drop-off, then served her a White Russian instead. Thank God the Cold War is long over, the woman had said, hoisting her drink, always with the jokes. What had she meant by that?

              Their daughters were friends, she thinks. But she can’t remember exactly, and none of the moms remember her, not since she’s become a ghost. She can see them through her window when they come down here to the tracks; she can sense them in her bones when the trains rattle through, shaking her foundation. They may not remember her, but they know what happened to her daughter. They all have regrets, these mothers; a shared need to forget one thing or another. What will become of them all?

              She watches them gather like witches, twitching when they hear a distant rumble, squatting low in the dirt and twigs and colored leaves. Then they leap and scream at the top of their lungs when the train rips by — this is why they come! Together, they run to retrieve their pennies, smashed smooth and still warm.

Kelle Schillaci Clarke is a Seattle-based writer who lives not far from the train tracks. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Los Angeles Review, LEON Literary Review, Gone Lawn, CHEAP POP, and other literary journals. She holds an MFA from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and was recently named the 2021-2022 Pen Parentis Writing Fellow. She can be found on Twitter @kelle224 and at her website: